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Are we what we eat?

By Trisha Elliott

Does the thought of turkey with all the trimmings get your theological juices flowing? If how we live is a reflection of what we believe, then how and what we eat is one of the main ways we express our theology. Christmas is a good time to contemplate Christianity’s gastronomic qualities.

Food is at the heart of the Bible. From the beginning, food is celebrated, an indicator of the state of the heart and a sign of God’s care. Jesus spent so much of his ministry eating and drinking that he is accused of being a glutton and a drunkard.

What does a Christian theology of food have to say to a world with a diet mentality, where food security is uneven, agribusiness is destroying the soil, and morality words like “sinful” and “tempting” show up on the menu?

It turns out a lot. Norman Wirzba, author of Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating, explains that we don’t just eat food; we create community through it, teach manners, ethics and justice by how we produce and consume it, and express our deepest love by how we share it.

Our relationship to food boils down to our relationship to ourselves and God. Cooking up a sound theology of food would be life changing.

Last year, NPD, a global market research group, reported that people dine and drink solo half the time now. If we really saw food as a means through which we could “taste and know that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8), would we be as inclined to eat alone or to hoover a hormone-injected burger while exiting the drive-thru?

If we thought about food the way Wirzba suggests — as God’s way of saying, “I love you. I want to nurture you into life” — would we still channel our anxiety into stuffing and starving ourselves? Would we waste so much of it?

If we truly believed that the Promised Land is a sacred place flowing with milk and honey and saw the bread and wine of communion not as ordinary things tossed into a grocery cart but as the lifeblood of the world, would we shrug off the fact that global warming has brought bumblebee populations into sharp decline, which scientists say will affect long-term food security and the economy?

There’s nothing quaint about the potluck, the community meal, the pause for grace or the funeral luncheon. We would do well to bake our theology into these countercultural acts of grace so that we can taste the richness of the spiritual traditions our elders have handed us.

Cheers to Christian hospitality! Cheers to the eucharist and those weeny crustless egg salad sandwiches! Cheers to the community garden and food bank partnerships! Cheers to the turkey — and the love! Bon appétit, friends.

Rev. Trisha Elliott is a minister at City View United in Ottawa.

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